Tuesday, 1 March 2022

2nd Split Winter Tourism Round Table Held at HGK: 5 Key Takeaways

March 1, 2022 - The second Split winter tourism round table was held on Tuesday, March 1 at the Croatian Chamber of Commerce - Split County Chamber (HGK), with Mayor Ivica Puljak and representatives of the Split and Split-Dalmatia County tourist boards. 

After the successful first round table on Split winter tourism in December, the initiative to extend the tourist season received the first concrete vision at today's second meeting. Organized by the Croatian Chamber of Commerce - Split County Chamber and Total Croatia News, the Chamber of Tourism gathered in Split and presented four programs that can strengthen the offer in the postseason and create a base for continuing flights to Split Airport after October.

Mayor Ivica Puljak reiterated his support for this initiative on this occasion as well.

"Split is a city that is increasingly extending the tourist season, and it will continue to be extended because there is great potential for tourism to stretch throughout the whole year. However, we want that tourism to be sustainable, not to endanger the quality of life of citizens. Therefore, it is up to us, the City, to build infrastructure that can enable tourism to develop well," said the mayor, expressing satisfaction with all projects and joint partnership as a good and proper way to develop Split tourism further.

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President of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce - Split County Chamber Joze Tomaš also emphasized the potential of developing 365 tourism in Split.

"The trend of introducing a four-day working week, present in a growing number of companies in the world, extends the weekend to three days, which with good connections, airlines and everything else, opens additional opportunities for Split," said Tomaš, emphasizing that we still have a lot of work to do on continuing the current events as well as launching new content. 

"The Split Winter Tourism initiative was launched due to the problems that caterers and hoteliers face after the cut that occurs in mid-October. Talking about winter tourism in Split and extending the season, we detected that it is necessary to bridge the period from the end of October to the beginning of Advent, i.e., the month of November, " said Jasmina Kruščić on behalf of the initiative.

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A quality introduction to the topic was provided by statistical data on Split tourist arrivals and the season in general. In addition to the excellent preconditions that Split has as a year-round destination, one of the biggest obstacles is air connections with the rest of Europe, which lack in the winter months. Hence, the initiative aims to increase the percentage of air arrivals.

Programs that would strengthen the offer are based on Split's digital-cultural and eno-gastronomic promotion and were presented by private sector stakeholders. These are the Split Light Festival, Gastronomy Month (working title Split on a Plate), Digital Nomads, and Winter Sailing.

Split Light Festival would include the lighting of public spaces and monuments and 3D mapping in the form of a trial four-day festival of light and music that would promote the city's creative industry and cultural heritage. The gastronomic offer of Split has been a critical tourist product for many years, and this year October would be marked as the month of gastronomy, during which Split restaurants would place special offers for locals and tourists. Digital nomads, for whom Split is a desirable destination with an average of 900 visitors a month, are also a niche with a huge space for growth and whose benefits were presented at the meeting. In the segment of nautical tourism, winter sailing was introduced, an offer that is sufficiently developed in the rest of the world and is a logical sequence in the Split postseason. The classic charter offer or sailing school for foreigners during city break stays will surely strengthen this sector toward sustainable development.

In the discussion that followed, which was attended by representatives of the tourist boards of Split and Split-Dalmatia County, Split Faculty of Economics, and the private sector, the presented solutions were discussed, with other offers and defined optimal dates.

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All participants agree that Split has enough offseason perks, based on which it can seek better connections with the rest of the world, and that there is a need to work together with all stakeholders, who can only bring change together. It was also emphasized that it is necessary to work more on the domestic tourism component and nearby markets and extend the season step by step, i.e., with flights a week or two earlier and end a week or two later, and gradually expand the circle. To move in that direction, it was concluded that a Business and Tourist Council would be established at the Croatian Chamber of Commerce - Split County Chamber, which will actively work on implementing this offer and other quality initiatives for some of them to come to life as early as 2022, or to be fully ready in 2023.

Five key takeaways from the Initiative organizers

1. Further analysis should be done with the Private & Public sectors and the Split Airport to determine what our focus should be in the future regarding flights, including the best dates.
2. After seeing the Split Airport statistics, we all agreed we need to flatten the curve of flight seasonality and that both the public and private sectors need to work together in creating a strategy on how to achieve that.
3. Restructuring the budget so that the initiatives that are put forward for building the offseason months should have precedence for future competitions.
4. The public sector supports these initiatives but funding may prove to be an issue. The Split-Dalmatia County Tourist Board competition for funding is now live.
5. Lack of communication between the Private & Public sectors continues to be one of the main issues. How will we move forward to ensure that communication improves. A decision was taken to form a sub-committee of public-private partnership, including the city, tourist board, Chamber of Economy and private sector tourism providers to move things forward. 

Source: HGK

For more on travel in Croatia, follow TCN's dedicated page.

Tuesday, 22 February 2022

2nd Split Winter Tourism Roundtable on March 1: Presenting Quality Content

February 22, 2022 - For Split winter tourism to succeed, it needs quality content. The 2nd Split Winter Tourism Roundtable will present precisely that. 

Developing winter tourism in Split will not happen overnight, but progress is being made. After the success of the first Split Winter Tourism Roundtable a few weeks ago (you can read all about it, as well as the minutes of the meeting in Reflections on the First TCN Split Winter Tourism Roundtable), the second roundtable will take place on March 1, with Mayor Ivica Puljak once again confirming his attendance - we are very grateful for his support, as well as all the other stakeholders, who are supporting this initiative. 

Our thanks too to Natasa and Joze from the Split Croatian Chamber of Commerce, who are hosting the next roundtable - public/private partnership is key for this initiative to succeed. And a huge thanks to the fabulous female quartet of Jasmina Kruscic from Chops Grill (host of the first roundtable), Mare Mustapic of Zinfandel/Brasserie on 7, Jelena Tabak of Dujkin Dvor, and TCN's very own Daniela Rogulj, who have done a LOT of work behind the scenes, as well as star TCN intern Toni Petricic, who has done some outstanding data analysis on airport passenger numbers, and suggested areas to focus on extending the flight season by a little. An overview of his findings will be presented at the meeting. 

The roundtable will be attended by representatives of University of Split, Faculty of Economisc who are working on Strategy of development of Split 2030, tourism included. The document is not yet finalised, but they will give an overview of the direction of the strategy and its key points. 

The next roundtable will focus on content, content, content. There is no point having winter flights if there is no content. We will be focusing on four areas - gourmet, 3D mapping, winter sailing, and digital nomads. All presentations will be recorded and put on YouTube so people can see them, as well as being reported on by TCN. 

Moderator par excellence Michael Freer is sadly not available, so I will attempt to fill his considerable shoes in the role. 

For more detail on the content of the second Split Winter Tourism Roundtable, this is from the email sent by the Split Chamber of Commerce - thank you for your support:

We are formally inviting you to attend the follow-up Split Winter Tourism Roundtable meeting, to be held at HGK Split on March 1 at 10 am. 

According to the conclusions of the first Round Table held, we will be presenting four possible programs that might enhance the post season target period which could make the season longer, i.e. November

The program of the round table is as follows:

Moderator: Paul Bradbury

Introduction: presentation of arrivals and statistic and why should we boost November

1) Split-Dalmatian Gastro capital: Ingrid Badurina Danielsson and Dubravka Tomeković Aralica (Taste the Mediterranean and Gault&Millau)

2) 3D mapping - osvjetljavanje Grada: Mislav Čizmić i Ivana Burazin (Promo plan)

3) Winter sailing: Nick Hathaway (45 Degrees Sailing)

4a) Realising Split's Fantastic Potential Through Community: Nikolina Kukoč (Split Tech City).

4b) Why Split Should be the Regional Capital for Digital Nomads, and How to Make it so: Tanja Polegubić (Saltwater Nomads)

Other participants will be representatives of Tourist board (City and County), Mayor of Split, Mr. Puljak and representatives of the initiative (Total Croatia News and HGK).

TCN will of course report on the event in detail and make all the presentation videos available on our YouTube channel as sson as resources allow. 

You can follow the Split winter tourism initiative on the dedicated TCN section.

Thursday, 23 December 2021

Improving Croatian Tourism: 8 Key TCN Areas of Focus for 2022

December 23, 2021 - 2022 will be a year of change for tourism in Croatia. An overview of 8 key areas TCN will be focusing its efforts on improving Croatian tourism in 2022.

2021 has been a great year at TCN, as we diversified from a news portal into some other projects. There is such potential in so many areas in this country that I am constantly surprised at how few people I see exploring the opportunities. I know a few people who laughed when a certain Dutch expat announced he was going to grow tomatoes in northern Croatia, but having seen the project develop at first hand, it is heartening to see that such ideal dreams of Jan de Jong, Jerko Trogrlic and the team at CROP Hrvatska will become a reality. 

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(The Slavonian Wannabe Tomato Growers Convention with CROP Hrvatksa, Osijek, December 2021)

And once it starts, the floodgates could open. Contrary to the general media portrayal, I genuinely think that this is an incredibly exciting time to be alive in Croatia. And I leave 2021 and enter 2022 with perhaps more energy, optimism and determination than ever before since I moved here permanently back in 2003. 

Of course, Jan is a much more successful businessman than I could ever hope to be, and so my main focus in 2022 will be to develop the eco-system of sustainable tourism all over the country, 12 months a year, rather than watch the current lazy status quo which is slowly destroying Croatia's Adriatic jewels. 

It has been another completely random 12 months at TCN. Just as I never expected to be named International Medical Travel Journalist of the Year in Malaysia a year ago, so too I did not expect to be giving a keynote speech at Digital Nomad Week based out of Bali on VIP Day almost exactly a year later - you can see the first presentation of our new CROMADS platform during my online presentation above.

2021 was a year of awards and lawsuits for TCN. A total of 11 international awards for projects that we were partners in, and an impressive 3 lawsuits, the first in my life (I don't count the one publicly announced in 2018 by Mayor of Jelsa, Niksa Peronja, as it never arrived). Seven awards for the Total Croatia Travel INFO Viber community, delivered in partnership with Manjgura and Mediacor (including 3 at the Polaris Awards in London), 2 for Zagreb Digital Nomad Week with Saltwater Nomads and Zagreb Tourist Board, and 2 for Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence program with Saltwater Nomads, City of Dubrovnik and Dubrovnik Tourist Board. 

But as nice as it was to win the awards, it was actually the lawsuits which gave me the inspiration for a new direction for TCN. If our constructive criticism was not only read by the Kings of Accidental Tourism, but bothered them so much that they were prepared to sue me for 100,000 kuna, perhaps I had a voice that was being heard further than I had imagined.  

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I am certainly very grateful to the Kings for the lawsuits. Apart from being described by one journalist as the biggest PR own goal in the history of the Croatian National Tourist Board, it was also the best free promotion TCN has ever had (thank you!), as a staggering 16,000 people took part in an online poll by Index.hr after the story hit all the major news networks. 

If the Kings were that sensitive to a few words, what might happen if we publicly started pushing a few initiatives via TCN to see what stuck, and what progress we could make? The lawsuits will be entering their third calendar year next month, and you can follow progress every step of the way in our Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit feature, which will probably go on for years until we win in the European courts in Strasbourg. TCN promo budget 2022 - 2026 - tick.  

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But it seems more and more people are recognising TCN and the various initiatives we are pushing to celebrate the little guy and connect the eco-system outside the crumbling walls of the Mighty State of Uhljebistan. It was an honour earlier this week, for example, to receive an invitation from His Excellency Raj Srivastava, Indian Ambassador to Croatia to the launch of the India-Croatia Startup Bridge. Even more so when the Ambassador told me he was a TCN reader and that some of our articles celebrating Croatian startups influenced his thinking on this initiative. It is a great initiative, and I look forward to TCN reporting on various successes.

Rather than just reporting on the news and blogging about the latest lawsuit postponement by the Kings (Read more in Diary of a Croatian Lawsuit: 50 Lawyers, No Secretary, No Hearing), I started to think about ways that TCN could advocate for positive change in some targeted niches. Although I am not a tourism expert, I am getting to know Croatian tourism very well and travel extensively. Meeting so many people from all walks of life has helped me form a few conclusions on how we could improve a few things. 

As we take a break for Christmas (TCN will be offline from midnight tonight until December 28), here are 8 key areas we will be focusing on in 2022, in addition to delivering you your daily Croatian news in English. 

Split Winter Tourism Roundtable

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After posting a few TCN articles on the potential of Split winter tourism and questions why we no longer have much, some of the private Split tourism operators came up with a suggestion that TCN host a winter tourism roundtable, inviting all key stakeholders (including the Mayor of Split, Split Dalmatia County, regional and city tourist board director, Split Airport, State Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, GMs of Split's 5-star hotels, representatives from the restaurant, hotel, hostel and MICE sectors, and tourism consultants) to have an open exchange of ideas in search of a way forward. 

Not only did everyone invited come, but they all engaged and left an excellent lunch at CHOPS Grill with the desire to try. We meet again in January. Special thanks to Jasmina Kruscic, Jelena Tabak, Mare Mustapic, Daniela Rogulj, Mario Seric and MIchael Freer for pushing this initiative. Let's see 2022 deliver the first results.  You can read more in Reflections on the First TCN Split Winter Tourism Roundtable

Vukovar Card and Vukovar 365, Full of Life

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How many of you have been to Vukovar on any other date than November 18?

Having been to Vukovar Remembrance Day in 2019 and 2021, as well as several other visits, I came up with a suggestion called the Vukovar Card, a chance for people who change their Facebook status every November 18 for a day to do something more concrete (Vukovar Card: Support Local Economy Rather than Temporary Facebook Status). I was very grateful for the positive reaction and support of regional tourist board directors Ivana Juric and Rujana Busic Srpak, who devised a Vukovar Card 7-day itinerary through the magic of Vukovar Srijem and Osijek Baranja Counties. I sent this to Minister of Tourism Nikolina Brnjac and State Secretary Tonci Glavina with a request for a meeting to develop the concept. 

That meeting will take place on January 10 at the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, and I was encouraged by Tonci's positive initial feedback at the Split winter tourism roundtable.  

If you are interested to know more about the new Vukovar and the people and businesses framing a brighter future, follow the TCN series, Vukovar 365, Full of Life, with new TCN writer Katarina Andjelkovic from Vukovar.

Digital Nomads

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The growth of the Croatian digital nomad story has been one of the highlights of my year. So much positive energy, innovative ideas, fabulous people and unforgettable experiences - it has been a privilege to be part of the journey. Working with Jan de Jong, Saltwater Nomads, the Digital Nomad Association, the Digital Nomads Croatia Facebook group,  Swanky Travel, Zagreb Tourist Board, the City of Dubrovnik, Dubrovnik Tourist Board, Doma Zagreb Aparthotel, and others has been one of the undoubted highlights of 2021. Zagreb Digital Nomad Week & Ambassador Program and Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence program complemented Jan's visa initiative and has helped put Croatia well and truly on the digital nomad map.

2022 will be more of the same... and more. Exciting initiatives in both Zagreb and Dubrovnik will be announced in early 2022, and if we can dot the Is and cross the Ts on a couple of other projects, things could get very interesting. It seems that next year will have me travelling internationally to promote the Croatian digital nomad story, with Digital Nomad Festival in Turkey in May, and Digital Nomad Summit in Bali in September already in the diary.  

Medical tourism and digital nomads

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2022 will see the 10th anniversary of my favourite conference in Croatia, the annual Crikvenica International Health Tourism conference in Crikvenica. CIHT has been good to me over the years, giving me my first exposure to the global medical tourism community (and leading to those awards in Malaysia). The pioneering work of Ognjen Bagatin and the Kvarner Health Tourism Cluster have placed Croatia firmly on the medical tourism map, and after the major blip that is the pandemic, it is time to renew efforts. You can read a report on CIHT 2021 in Kvarner Full of Health Tourism Opportunity, as CIHT 2021 Shines.

A major new medical tourism opportunity has presented itself since 2019, one which I will be pushing hard - digital nomads. Rather than having to work hard to attract foreign patients to come to Croatia for treatment, why not instead spend less energy informing all the nomads who are already here how Croatian medical tourism can fix their medical issues at a fraction of the price back home. No need to travel, for they are already here. 

The potential of the Kvarner region for health tourism is huge, and there is a much underutilised airport on Krk, Rijeka Airport. An issue I will also discuss with Minister Brnjac on January 10, as she is a transport expert.  

Spreading the Truth about Slavonia, Full of Life

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The biggest surprise of 2021 for me was not only how full of life Slavonia is, but how ignorant the rest of Croatia is about what is really out east in their own country. I was shocked at how few of my Zagreb friends who are among the 200,000 Croats who go skiing abroad each year had ever been to Slavonia and the East. With such little local knowledge, how can we expect tourists to know?

Lots of activity coming next year on this, including a fun survey on the streets of Zagreb to highlight the gap in knowledge. Here are two questions from the survey to get you in the mood. How many of you can answer both:

1. What is the main town in Baranja?

2. Can you name three famous buildings in eastern Croatia, not including the Vukovar Water Tower? 

Want a taster of what you are missing? Read more in Time to Tell the Truth about Slavonia Full of Life

Danube Drone Days

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What happens when you meet an English businessman over breakfast at your hotel in Osijek in November?

Sometimes it leads to a night of sushi and gin in the company of the CEO or Orqa, three drone geeks, and a plan to promote Slavonia and the Danube with some of the best drone pilots in the world. 

 I love the concept of Danube Drone Days, and I am looking forward to working with these two geeks above to make it a reality.  

CROMADS

Our new baby. What more can I say, but watch the official promo vid above, and check out www.cromads.com after Christmas for more. This is going to be fun.  

Total Croatia Travel Portal

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2021 also saw TCN launch its sister site, Total Croatia, a multi-lingual tourism information platform answering the questions people are asking. Launching in May, I was perhaps a little ambitious wanting to be the leading portal by the summer, but we are working hard behind the scenes to make sure Total Croatia's first full year in 2022 will be a big one. You can check it out here

And that - more or less - is that. If you are interested in getting involved to build the eco-system outside the crumbling walls of the Mighty State of Uhljebistan, drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject TCN 2022, explaining how you can help and what you can offer. 

Enough from my side, except to thank you all for your company, interest and support in 2021. We have a great readership, and I even enjoy the contributions of the trolls these days. 

Things are starting to move slowly but surely. The default negative mindset is being challenged by new ideas and shoots of positivity. Croatia is a great country with a really bright future once we overhaul the current system. 

And you will be able to read all about it on TCN in 2022. 

Cheers!

TCN will be offline from midnight tonight until December 28. Merry Christmas to All. 

 

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Reflections on the First TCN Split Winter Tourism Roundtable

December 16, 2021 - The first TCN Split Winter Tourism Roundtable took place on Monday at CHOPS Grill in Split. Some reflections...  

As I looked above the excellent steak that was served for lunch after the TCN Split Winter Tourism Roundtable, I smiled (see photo above). For opposite me, at the other side of our rectangular roundtable, were perhaps the four public officials who could have the most influence in helping the initiative to extend the Split tourist season to succeed. 

And I had history with all four. 

Central Dalmatia Tourist Board Director Josko Stella actually gave me my first job in 12 years back in 2013 (after more than a decade of being self-employed) when he invited me to become the official Central Dalmatian Tourist Board blogger, a position I held for 7 happy years. It is something I will always remember with gratitude.  

Next to him, Mayor of Split Ivica Puljak, who I first met with his wife, MP Marijana Puljak, over a coffee in Jelsa in 2018, as they wanted to show support for me after the Mayor of Jelsa announced he was suing me (he never did). And it was Marijana who stood up in Parliament last year to raise my case of the SLAPP lawsuit by the Croatian National Tourist Board last year. 

Next to him, State Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism and Sports, Tonci Glavina, a man with Klis running through his veins, whose lovely wife Tracey was the first-ever writer for TCN back in 2015.

And next to Tonci, Split Tourist Board Director Alijana Vuksic, who has been supporting firstly Total Split, and then TCN, since 2014. 

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(Four key figures from the public sector - Tonci Glavina, Josko Stella, Alijana Vuksic, and Ivica Puljak)

To their left and to their right, additional figures from the public sector in the form of the Croatian Chamber of Commerce, county representative, and the Deputy Director of Split Airport, as well as some of the most important names from the private sector - GMs from 5-star hotels, tourism consultants, and representatives from the MICE, hotels, hostels and restaurant sectors. 

They all came. Everyone who was invited. 

And they all - without exception - left their egos and agendas at home, came to listen, then to speak, and then to engage. I won't pretend that it was straightforward to get everyone to the table, because it wasn't, but it will be a lot easier next time, because everyone left pleasantly surprised at how constructive the session was. And I think everyone left with a feeling that here was a very real chance of developing something concrete, meaningful and lasting. 

While I am by no means a tourism expert, one man who is is Zoran Pejovic of Paradox Hospitality, whose contributions were poignant (and we are all very excited to learn more about the 200 million euro investment he is bringing to the Central Dalmatia region). This is what he posted on LinkedIn after our meeting:

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Yesterday morning I had looked at my super packed schedule for the day and for a brief moment contemplated calling Paul Bradbury to inform him that I can't make it to his "round table" discussion on the topic of Split tourism and its shoulder and off-season activities, promotions and most importantly connectivity. That would have been a mistake.

No, we didn't solve all of Split and Dalmatia's low-season tourism challenges. However, we had a very substantiated and civilized discussion with some of the stakeholders exchanging contacts for the first time and most of the participants exchanging thoughts and ideas in this format for the very first time. We had Mayor of Split, Ivica Puljak at the head of the table, together with the State Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism, Tonči Glavina. We had representatives of Split hotels, hostels, restaurants associations, DMCs as well as heads of Split Airport, Tourism Boards and Chamber of Commerce. And I was there, and I am happy to have been there.

Perhaps I had such low expectations of this round table that it was not difficult to exceed it, but this was so well organized by Paul Bradbury and Daniela Rogulj, so well moderated by Michael Freer, so well hosted by Jasmina Garbin that I have left feeling that there is yet hope for us in creating a better and more thought-through tourism in Dalmatia.

Now, a couple of comments from my side. I believe that the job of building better and more diversified tourism products and promotion of the destination rests on the shoulders of the private sector, not the public officials and the governments. That said, we need public offices to provide better infrastructure where possible and to reduce the tax burdens when possible, in order to make us more competitive with our Mediterranean competitors. Also, we all need to understand that we will not be having a lack of travellers moving forward, but the lack of workers and if this is not addressed structurally we will have nothing to discuss in the future. We need tips for the service personnel to be non-taxed until certain limits, capping it at around 700 euros a month. We finally need to start developing proper hospitality managers, from Hotel General Managers and Sales and Marketing Directors to operations executives and to make this industry desirable once again. And lastly for this post, lastly only because of LinkedIn post character limit :), we need to make a strong push for excellence and within that make no concessions on the road to more responsible hospitality and tourism.

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(Three stars - Jamina Kruscic, CHOPS Grill hostess, Daniela Rogulj of TCN, and moderator Michael Freer)

You can read the minutes of the meeting here, as well as the proposed action plan to get to the next level - many thanks to Daniela Rogulj for the huge amount of work that this entailed. 

Here were some of my key takeaways:

1. The amount of knowledge, experience, connections, and ability in that room was frightening. As was the realisation of how disconnected it was. When Zoran casually mentioned that he was bringing 200 million euro of investment to Central Dalmatia, I smiled. It has come a few minutes after Ante Lacman bemoaned the inability of Split to heed simple requests to close a road, so that a 7-figure (euro) car launch could take place in Split. So many people dealing with so many big numbers, with no coordination with the other stakeholders. As I drove to Zadar, Zagreb and finally Osijek the next day, the very thought of being able to have a coordinated approach with all those stakeholders singing from the same hymn sheet would transform everything. 

2.  The engagement of Mayor Puljak and his desire to learn was impressive. It is no secret that tourism is not his strongest card, but I left with the feeling that he too wanted to unblock some of the roadblocks we are encountering. 

3. The comment of consultant Mario Seric gave me additional reason to dare to dream of a good end result. Mario is a veteran of a 2008-9 initiative to bring winter flights to Split (and with some success - one of its legacies is the Split to Munich year-round flight). He agreed to give a presentation on the lessons learned from 2009 (and did so superbly), but I know that he - like Zoran - had zero expectations from the roundtable, and he was probably only there as a favour to me. Mario's conclusion that if he had had Josko, Ivica, Tonci and Alijana as the public officials to deal with back in 2009, there would probably have been a different outcome. 

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(One of the many meetings before the roundtable)

4. Pero from Split Airport was a total star, and a very transparent one. Split Airport has always been a mystery to me, and I have never met any official from there, but his openness and engagement with everyone helped to break down barriers and misconceptions, and we all left with a greater understanding of why things are the way they are, and how we can slowly effect change with a longer season of flights. 

5. One thing I have learned in 2021 is that even though Croatia is a very bureaucratic country, effective public-private partnership IS possible in Croatia. Not all public institutions are as ineffective and irrelevant as the Croatian National Tourist Board, and the award-winning partnerships of Saltwater Nomads, Total Croatia News and firstly Zagreb Tourist Board, but also the City of Dubrovnik and Dubrovnik Tourist Board with Zagreb Digital Nomad Week & Ambassador Program and Dubrovnik Digital Nomads-in-Residence Program show how impactful those public-private partnerships can be when focused on a common goal. I left the roundtable with the feeling that there is now an opportunity to build on the energy of Monday's meeting to create something similar with the stakeholders from the roundtable. 

6. Split, Central Dalmatia, or probably Dalmatia itself has a branding problem. Istria does things so much better, but I don't believe the core quality of the raw product is any better in Istria than in Dalmatia. Dalmatia needs to be branded properly, things need to be proactive rather than reactive. With consultants such as Mario Seric and Zoran Pejovic already stakeholders in this initiative, why not engage them to use their expertise and contacts to brand Dalmatia properly once and for all?

7. We have the right stakeholders at the table. What I really enjoyed about this whole process was seeing it come together and seeing how various stakeholders understand the limitations and possibilities of the other side. State Secretary Glavina has experience in the private sector, our charming hostess Jasmina Kruscic was once a tourist board director, and Jelena Tabak, a restaurant owner and Head of the Split Caterers Association navigates the waters expertly. So many of the stakeholders were meeting for the first time, or at least exchanging ideas for the first time. More meetings like Monday (and the next one is planned for next month) will build trust, confidence, brainstorming - and ultimately results. 

8. CHOPS Grill really is the best meat restaurant in Dalmatia, and a fantastic and hospitable venue for such an event. Thank you, Jasmina, for your generous support.  

Real progress was made, and I am very heartened by everything that happened on Monday. Special thanks to the incredible quartet of ladies who were the real stars of all this - Jelena from CHOPS, Mare from B7, Dani from TCN, and Jelena from Dujkin Dvor. When they put together the Wikipedia page of how Split built its winter tourism, this photo below will be the lead shot. 

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And a big thank you to Michael Freer, whose moderation and facilitation played a huge part in getting us this far. I look forward to meeting - and reporting - again next month. 

To be continued... 

Thursday, 16 December 2021

Split Winter Tourism Roundtable Meeting Minutes & Action Plan

December 16, 2021 - The first Split Winter Tourism Roundtable took place at CHOPS Grill in Split on Monday - a transparent publication of the meeting minutes and action plan. 

I had no idea what to expect from the TCN Split Winter Tourism Roundtable initiative, but I certainly did not expect it to be as productive as it was on Monday, or to have so much engagement from everyone present and a collective willingness to try and move things to the next stage. 

I will be publishing my own reflections on morning (and afternoon) of high energy, positive vibes, and an excellent extended lunch by CHOPS Grill, our very generous hosts for the roundtable. But for now, as promised, the minutes from the meeting and proposed action plan to get to the next stage.  

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Date: December 13, 2021

Host: Jasmina Krušić and Chops Grill Steak & Seafood

Organisers: Total Croatia News (CEO Paul Bradbury & COO Daniela Rogulj), Maria Mustapić (Brasserie on 7, Zinfandel Food & Wine Bar, Charlies Bar, Split hostels), Jelena Tabak (Dujkin Dvor, Split Association of Caterers), Jasmina Krušić (Chops Grill Steak & Seafood)

Moderator: Michael Freer 

Attended by: Ivica Puljak, Mayor of Split, Tonči Glavina, State Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Alijana Vukšić, Director of Split Tourist Board, Joško Stella, Director of Split-Dalmatia County Tourist Board, Pero Bilas, Deputy Director of Split Airport, Joze Tomaš, President Split-Dalmatia County Chamber of Economy, Nataša Bušić, Secretary of the County Chamber for Tourism, Paul Bradbury, journalist and CEO of Total Croatia News, representatives of hotels (Nevena Antonini - Radisson Blu Split, Arnoud Zaalberg and Andrijana Mladina (Le Meridien Lav), Zoran Pejović (Paradox Hospitality), Marija Mustapić (Split hostels), Jelena Tabak (Split Association of Caterers), Ante Lacman (Intours MICE), Ivana Durdov (Secret Dalmatia), Chops Grill owner and host Jasmina Kruščić, and TCN minute taker Daniela Rogulj.

*The meeting was attended by a mix of the private, public, and charity sectors.

How can we improve everyone’s life in Split? Dalmatia? Croatia?

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Split Winter Tourism Roundtable Goal: To come up with ways forward; get everyone on the same page; give our own opinions and ideas. 

Icebreaker 

What does Split already have for tourists in November? | What is Split missing in November?

What do we have?

Good weather 

Comments: 

*Bura in November - yearly statistical averages show that Split has the worst weather in the Mediterranean in terms of rainy days. Compared with other Mediterranean cities, this could raise an issue for Split as a city break destination.  

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Active tourism 

Comments: 

*Olive picking, bike tours, hiking. 

*HGK has 10 tourism clusters, from active tourism to hotels. Congresses are held to bring together people who offer active tourism and accommodations, with activities for ages 7-77.

*HGK also has a cultural association and a diving association, all to extend the season and look past the sun and sea. 

*Winter sailing potential - totally different experience. 

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Gastronomy 

Comments: 

*Jelena Tabak of the Split Caterers Association spoke about how the Split offer has changed in the last 5 years to become a culinary centre of Croatia, with a better offer than Zagreb. Restaurants are the last part of the land-service offer chain. Gastronomy is very important and caterers are struggling to get locals back in town (they are going to shopping malls instead). Caterers trying to create a local offer, because without locals, there are no tourists. 

*Gastro festivals in November won’t be possible if terrace prices increase in town. Caterers are waiting for a new strategy, otherwise restaurants will be forced to operate seasonally (it would be the responsible thing for restaurants to do). Caterers need to know the strategy (if terrace price increase, it will destroy the fight they have won so far)

*November is wine month - keep in mind for future events.

*Arnoud Zaalberg has been in Split for 11 years. The restaurant offer has changed from catering to the masses to adapting to new flavours.

*Need to work on sustainability - see what is around us in Dalmatia, what we have/have lost over the years. People don’t want to work in fields as they aren’t supported. Restaurants need to work with local OPGs, as there are many great things around Dalmatia to help the culinary tourist offer.

*Istria is doing a much better job than Split, but the restaurant sector is going in the right direction. 

*Zoran Pejović added that gastronomy is not where it should be. While it is better than it was, and miles have been crossed, there is a difference in what you can get and how people perceive Split gastronomy abroad.

*Split is not a gastronomic destination - internationally people don't know what Split has. Split needs to find a new narrative/storyline to make the city distinct. 

*Slovenia is doing an amazing job thanks to one female chef - Ana Roš - who is single-handedly putting Slovenia on the world map. Croatia needs to find their Ana. 

*Split needs to create responsible activities. Our wine and olive oil are on par with the rest of the world, but there is no good package, no good narrative. We need to find ambassadors.  

Split vs. Dubrovnik | Car Launches

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Comments:

*Split needs to develop a long-term plan so we don’t turn into Dubrovnik.

*Andrijana Mladina believes Split needs to be more attractive with a lot more elements.

*The season in Dubrovnik is longer than in Split as they have a filming industry, car launches, hotels, and DMCs.

*Ante Lacman believes Split needs to be more flexible; be a partner instead of an enemy. 

*Intours is the regional leader in the MICE segment. There is an interest in car launches focused on the pre and post-season, but the issue is connectivity. 

*100 requests for car launch events - people are bored of the usual locations - Split could receive at least 1 million euro - they are always held in the offseason - big car names - but they fail due to the flight connections.

Accommodation

*Arnoud added that Split is missing 2-3k beds year-round. Split cannot compete with Malta in this segment - need 5-6 bigger hotels with 250 - 300 keys - and a convention centre to extend the season.

*Split has no real international hotels - why is everything opening in Montenegro? Because foreign investment is too difficult here.

*Zoran - Do we have empty beds? Yes. Do we have hotels? No. Hotels in Montenegro are there for both good and bad reasons. Split lacks hotels that will further the image of the destination. No hotels in Dubrovnik have helped to further international image - and Split is millennia behind.

*Split needs hotels that will help position the city on the market / add convention centers. 6-8 room hotels do not help the image of the destination.

*Andrijana believes Dubrovnik tourism was lucky with misfortune. Split took a long time to become ‘a destination’. Le Meridien helped make Split a destination.

Is there a city break offer? 

*If we have flights, we need experiences - hiking and kayaking are questionable due to weather. The Palace has potential for events in the basement (or indoor events) 

*November offer needs to be much better for people to visit, but we need to focus on the region first.

*Split is the only big city where the population is declining - no local life to give to travellers - empty old town - need events.

*Only bars and restaurants in the centre - we need to be a reason to get people into the centre- during the week there is nothing to do.

*Shopping is awful - no big or designer brands.

*Need to focus on the local market - ned to attract locals to Split in November.

*City break - 4 day work weeks? Need content for a 3-day weekends.

*Exhibitions

*4 UNESCO protected sites - big on the cultural map - small galleries - really talented people - private initiatives alongside with UNESCO - not explored enough in the offer 

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What do we need?

FLIGHTS  

*Pero Bilas said the good news is summer, the bad news is winter.

*This can be seen thanks to the figures - capacity fulfilled in the peak season - then it starts spreading into other months - but there is nothing in March if you don’t fulfil April, and so on.

*Need to focus on November tourism, not January tourism. 

*Extend flights for the first 12 days of November. Fulfiling November is a way we can continue.

*55 airlines for summer 2022 at the moment, which is comparable to 2019 (dependent on the pandemic). 5 million seats and more than 2 million passengers are expected in the 2022 season.

*No available slots in the summer.  

*Airlines slightly extend their schedule into November.

*This week - 55 flights total - load factor 47% - achieving 70% would be great. Example -  55 flights - 5,5000 seats one way (11,000 weekly). During the peak season, we have 120 flights. 

*In comparison this week, Dubrovnik has 27 flights, Tivat 34 flights, Zadar 6 flights.

*Can you negotiate with airlines on conditions? In aviation there is only summer/winter - Split Airport cannot make it conditional due to the IATA scheduling and Split Airport policy. 

*Split Airport policy on subsidised flights? Can we agree with Ryanair? Split has had several discussions with Ryanair - equal conditions for everyone. Ryanair requests more than anyone else - Split Airport can’t jeopardise other airlines. Ryanair already flies to Split all the time, no need for a base. 

*Can there be a call to action for winter slots? Hotels are flexible in the winter, why can’t airports be? Can the airport have similar actions? 

*Are landing rights the same in summer and winter? Can we make an incentive for winter time (passenger service drop down of 5 euro)?

*Split Airport pricing - honest figures. 

*Ryanair in Zagreb offers special discounts - big question mark on how.

*Split Airport reached Zagreb traffic - 3.3 million passengers in 2019. 

*Typical winter month at Split Airport is 30k passengers - that is a single Saturday in the peak season. 

*What is at Split Airport’s disposal to attract flights? Subsidies to promote the pre and post-season. 

*If two companies want slots in the season - how do you choose? Is it possible to offer a slot in the offseason if all slots are taken in the summer? Answer - everyone wants a summer slot. 

*No one will come to Split for a city break if they have to pay 500 euros for a flight.

*New cities - need to think about locals as well - need cities locals want to visit.

*Tonci Glavina - in 2017, the ministry started a subsidy flights program - invested 70 million kuna (10 million euros) 

- all charter airlines/land tour operators 

- 259 new flights in Croatia 

- great success 

- 10 million sounds like a lot of money but it is peanuts 

- several meetings with tour operators - Ryanair most - they’re in the business to make money 

- if they have low capacity, they won’t make money 

- Chicken and egg again - motives for arrivals to the destination - what will motivate guests to buy tickets? Ryanair flies to Split for free.  

Branding as Dalmatia 

*Tonci Glavina on Split winter tourism - to brand Split as a year-round destination, we need to brand Dalmatia. 

*All the main tourism products we offer cannot be had by themselves - Split will always be the centre but without Dalmatia it is nothing.

*In order for year-round tourism we need other products 

*Private and public sectors need to brand the image better - does Istria have better olive oil or wine? No, but better banding.

*We need to brand Dalmatia a destination and create motives for arrival.

*Flights - first direct flight from the US to Dubrovnik 3 years ago - Ministry invested huge political capital, no subsidies 

*American airlines - huge campaign in the States - United and Delta followed

*The government can help Split Airport 

*Joško Stella - we have 3 institutions doing the same thing - the season has extended in the last 5 years 

*To extend the shoulder season, we need to go stronger into November 

*Tourist boards have a big capacity (funds)

*Eurowings, Jet 2, easyjet, etc have the most flights in the most critical months, but everyone wants the same thing - more slots in summer 

*What is Split’s advantage? 55 airlines - if someone drops out, we don’t have a problem 

*We need to incorporate everything when looking at extending the season. Everyone needs to get involved. 

*Tourist Boards will subsidise events - 100k euros last year - especially pre and post-season activities 

*Conclusion from Split Tourist Board - we need to all work together - that is extremely important. We have prepared many events - working on ‘Gastronomy Month’ in November. 

Next Steps 

FUNDING 

*Only two people at the meeting had funding so far from Tourist Boards. Suggestion - funding session with Stella, Puljak, and Vukšić to look at branding and budgets.

*Mayor Puljak - we need an even larger strategy - need Split to become an international city - 20-30% of foreigners will make it an international city 

*Ideas - Gastronomy month (October or November) - Month of Music - need to target a month that is outside the season (June or May) 

*Gastronomy action group - marketing, prices, looking at other examples  - Split Tourist Board, City of Split, Split-Dalmatia County all need to work together 

*Missing a branding strategy for Dalmatia and Split 

*The good news is that we don’t have a brand established yet 

Airport strategy

*How will we fill April and October and grow as well? Tourist experts should lead, but the airport will take part (with Split and SD County) 

*Who directly works with the airports in the Tourist Boards? 

*Need to create the product, not invest in flights 

*Split Tourist Board creating dozens of products every year, cooperating in education and events 

How can the private sector be more involved on a regular basis to speak the same narrative? 

*Through HGK - they are the link - they are a hub to connect 

*They act upon a problem 

*Need better cooperation

*Meetings are held to put out fires but not to plan  

Tonči Glavina - are we reaching the wrong conclusion? 

*2 years ago the Ministry introduced a new tourism reform system. 

*Tourist Board infrastructure - if it is run properly, it is headed by the mayor, with the Tourism Council headed by the Prefect.

*Members of Tourist Boards in Split and SD County are companies that pay membership fees.

*There is an annual meeting with the council - headed by Mayor or Prefect - to make decisions for the destination.

*Reorganizing the system gave more power to local tourist boards - regional tourist boards received more money. 

*Tourism policies are created here/executed here - needs to be done through the local government.

*HGK - part of destination management - needs to be involved as well.

*All synchronization needs to happen through these bodies - leadership needs to be involved 

*It is already set up - we just need to do better.

How?

*We have the products, we need to do a better job. 

*Hotel Marjan revamp with bring MICE capacity. 

*Tonči Glavina is optimistic. 

*We do not need to create new products, but make the ones we have better and brand them better.

*Need to talk about extending the shoulder and preseason - not the winter (think about autumn and spring) 

 

Recap - final comments by participants 

Joško Stella: Next step will be to meet with the tourist council. We need to consider the entire region and what is best for the region. He will invite cooperation with HGK and other representatives to reveal the details of financial possibilities. We need to inform people about these possibilities.

Ivica Puljak: We have the system set up, but need to make it better. We are all represented already. Puljak is very willing to do it; excited to consume the opportunity. Build the brand of Dalmatia. Split-Dalmatia County is not recognisable.

Tonči Glavina: Split is the heart of Dalmatia - Dalmatia is the brand. 2,000 guests in the County right now, all 2,000 in Split. The government will support activities at the regional and local level - co-financing programs, etc. 2.2 billion kuna in EU funds coming to the Croatian tourism sector by next summer. They need to allocate funds for 2021-2027. They are working on a sustainable tourism strategy for the next 10 years - can help through the system. 

Alijana Vukšić: Better cooperation. We have to think together, we have time. We have everyone here, and many chances to work together.

Jelena Tabak: We will continue to cooperate with the city; hopefully the terrace prices go down. Caterers will fight to keep things open in November.

Maria Mustapić: We need to think about a plan and strategy to make Dalmatia more recognisable. 

Jasmina Krušić: We will continue working at Chops so that there are excellent offers for locals and tourists. We will work with Jelena and the Tourist Board to create a good plan for November. We need admin help with investments and events - this process is slowing us down.

Zoran Pejović: 200 million euro of investment in Split-Dalmatia County coming. The private sector needs to be the driving force. The government needs to help by lowering taxes. Allow tips to be non-taxable. We will have guests but no employees. We need to commission new research to know how many tourists come by car, plane, how markets see Split. We need global research, then work on a strategy together. 

Ivana Durdov: We are lacking products and need to work together to create the product. We have a lack of promotion. We invest a lot in marketing in general but not really promoting our services. We will promote Dalmatia as a brand through our channels (luxury tourism in the American market - travel in the offseason).

Paul Bradbury: We have a world-class offer 12 months a year - but are bad at telling people. Using video content through the eyes of digital nomads year-round is the way. We are developing a platform of authentic experiences all over the country to show there is life everywhere through digital nomads and remote working. Cromads is a great platform to move Croatia forward. I will ask for meetings with Stella, Brnjac, and others.

Ante Lacman: We have the top clients that exist in our sector. I have the clients, I need connectivity and accessibility. We need to join actions in terms of content/targeting which guests and flight companies we want. We have specialists in their own business but we need leadership. We are willing to help but we need Vukšić, Stella, and Puljak. Why can't we bring MICE? We need to look at all destinations, brand as Dalmatia, and work together. 

Pero Bilas: We need a short-term plan for November and a long-term plan. We need to brand the products and promote them. We need an incentive scheme. Everyone needs to participate. We will share all of our figures. 

Nevena Antonini: We need to brand Dalmatia, but we didn’t say who will do it. Who is the expert? Let's create a tender for a tourism expert.

Arnoud Zaalberg: Branding is just one side but won’t save the winter. What makes and breaks our year is the shoulder season (MICE). I have still not heard about a regional strategy/important project - what is the long-term plan for the Split area? Potentially a convention centre? This will make a real difference and the branding will fall into place. We need to look beyond 4 years. Create a focus group on the long-term strategy. How can we get 5 big hotels? Government projects - how will everyone’s struggles be solved? If the project is right, the road is right, the legal structure is right - we will have the way. Foreign investors are scared of Split, we need to make it easier - we need to set the framework better. How can the government make this easier? 

Adrijana Mladina: We all need to agree on where we see Split in 10 years. What do we want from Split? Car launches? Film industry? We need a clear picture of where we want to be.

Natasa Bušić: At the national level we have a tourist council of the chamber which brings together the private and public sector - we can do that for SD county. Bring in the head of each association with public authorities, and perhaps airport, etc. We can meet as often as possible for solutions to problems and create a long-term goal.

Joze Tomaš: The 3rd time we will succeed. We will work on problems. We need a better business environment in Split. Need to think about all sectors. 

Proposed Actions based on the above feedback 

Everyone

  • to meet again at the end of January, in a speed dating style format so individuals get a better chance of sharing specific needs of the sector 
  • Meeting date TBD - between January 24 to 28, 2022.

Tonči Glavina - 

  • to provide an overview of the strategy so everyone understands how they can contribute 
  • to outline the new and improved ways that everyone can get involved in decision making as per restructured system
  • to support Ivica, Joško, and Alijana and to ensure inclusion of interested parties at an SDŽ and Split level

Joško Stella

  • To take a shared lead on creating an action plan for this year, especially October and November, with private partners sharing responsibility
  • To report back to his council, and to invite a representative of the private sector along
  • To set up an informational funding session in partnership with attendees, to ensure a large reach
  • To improve connections between SDŽ and private organisations to ensure the same message in marketing and to ensure collaboration rather than duplication
  • To work with TZ director Alijana Vuksic and meet with the initiative (Udruga Ugostitelja) on possible events for November

Ivica Puljak: 

  • To take a shared lead on creating an action plan for this year, especially October and November, with private partners sharing responsibility
  • to share which private sector representatives currently attend the council and vote on decisions at a county and local level

Alijana Vukšić

  • To take a shared lead on creating an action plan for this year, especially October and November, with private partners sharing responsibility
  • To improve connections between Split Tourist Office and private organisations to ensure the same message in marketing and to ensure collaboration rather than duplication
  • To report back to her council, and to invite a representative of the private sector along
  • To work with TZ SD-County director Josko Stella and meet with the initiative (Udruga Ugostitelja) on possible events for November

Jelena Tabak

  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices
  • To report back to caterers, and create an action plan and offer  for October and November, that will feed into the city and county offer

Maria Mustapić

  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices
  • To report back to the hostel industry, and create an action plan and offer for October and November, that will feed into the city and county offer

Jasmina Krušić

  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices
  • To report back to the restaurant industry, and create an action plan and offer  for October and November, that will feed into the city and county offer

Zoran Pejović

  • To partner with Ante Lacman and Arnoud Zaalberg, and gather the private sector attendees and create a list of recommendations and solutions, highlighting areas that need to be changed, including bureaucracy, financial elements, potential investments, MICE and research, and persons responsible, all of which can be presented and discussed next meeting
  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices

Ivana Durdov

  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices
  • To report back to DMCs and Tour Agencies, and create an action plan and offer  for October and November, that will feed into the city and county offer

Paul Bradbury

  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices
  • To maintain continuous communication with other news portals, both local and international, to ensure the branding is clear globally
  • To send a Cromads delegate to work with Ivana Durdov

Ante Lacman

  • To partner with Zoran Pejovic and Arnoud Zaalberg, and gather the private sector attendees and create a list of recommendations and solutions, highlighting areas that need to be changed, including bureaucracy, financial elements, potential investments, MICE and research, and persons responsible, all of which can be presented and discussed next meeting
  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices

Pero Bilas

  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices
  • To provide regular updates to interested parties about slots and flight capacity and opportunities and in turn actions needed to extend the season

Nevena Antonini

  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices
  • To continue working closely with large hotel chains in developing their offer and in turn attractiveness all year round

Arnoud Zaalberg

  • To partner with Zoran Pejovic and Ante Lacman, and gather the private sector attendees and create a list of recommendations and solutions, highlighting areas that need to be changed, including bureaucracy, financial elements, potential investments, MICE and research, and persons responsible, all of which can be presented and discussed next meeting
  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices

Adrijana Mladina

  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices
  • To continue working closely with large hotel chains in developing their offer and in turn attractiveness all year round

Natasa Bušić

  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices
  • To share all information about future meetings with all interested parties
  • To ensure meetings happen on a timely basis, and provide strategical direction and a platform based on feedback at the meeting (short term plans, long-term strategies)
  • To discuss with the private sector in Split and County how HGK can better support them in connecting to the public sector

Joze Tomaš

  • To attend future strategic meetings set up by the City and County Tourist offices
  • To support Natasa where possible with local initiatives
  • To support the private sector with their national solutions, especially around bureaucracy, funding, and attractiveness

Split Roundtable Media Coverage - December 13, 2021 

HRT: https://vijesti.hrt.hr/gospodarstvo/ugostitelji-zele-deset-tjedana-dulju-sezonu-3995600?fbclid=IwAR3VrK5Kin-nGWvdP7SKgOK4WO1XF1F0pzrDiJwTt3AQTnAItZILDLSSMyc

Dalmacija Danas: https://www.dalmacijadanas.hr/splitski-ugostitelji-zele-deset-tjedana-dulju-sezonu-spojiti-listopad-s-adventom-jer-svi-restorani-ionako-rade?fbclid=IwAR1pPAFRwDHnUPs6G46r6Wt-rckjqEPt2nDFHhDh8v4XPIK1eVJzweliCso

T.portal: https://www.tportal.hr/biznis/clanak/dalmatinski-ugostitelji-zele-deset-tjedana-dulju-sezonu-najveci-problem-je-manjak-letova-zimi-foto-20211214/print?fbclid=IwAR3vkrY5BT_7mZiDzIxOOOxlUBo4Zh52dl09vf8R-8cFvv38iWSjD9L1Uy0

RTL: https://www.rtl.hr/vijesti-hr/novosti/zanimljivosti/4157908/split/?fbclid=IwAR3hCQkWxlyNtHJCUPfbviX0HffupHydW8pP2VbQ57ozkMMPJKDwhVt7KFo

Monday, 13 December 2021

Split Winter Tourism Roundtable - Unity, Openness, Progress

December 13, 2021 - Today, at 10:00, the Split Winter Tourism Roundtable was held on the initiative of Total Croatia News and was realized by the Caterers Association in Split and Jasmina Krušić of Chops Grill on the topic of extending the summer season through the month of November.

The roundtable was chaired by Michael Freer, a Brit with a Croatian address and director of the Digital Nomads Association of Croatia. All stakeholders shared their previous experiences and suggestions in which direction to act in order to continuously connect the summer season with Advent during this time.

Despite the complex issues, the roundtable was conducted in a constructive tone and resulted in a consensus on extending the season in Split. Designing a rich and recognizable offer in Dalmatia, with Split as the heart of the region, will be the first concrete task of the roundtable participants and their connected partners at the next meeting in January, to be announced. 

The round table was attended by: Ivica Puljak, Mayor of Split, Tonči Glavina, State Secretary of the Ministry of Tourism, Alijana Vukšić, Director of Split Tourist Board, Joško Stella, Director of Split-Dalmatia County Tourist Board, Pero Bilas, Deputy Director of Split Airport, Joze Tomaš, President Split-Dalmatia County Chamber of Economy, Nataša Bušić, Secretary of the County Chamber for Tourism, Paul Bradbury, journalist and CEO of Total Croatia News, representatives of hotels (Nevena Antonini - Radisson Blu Split, Arnoud Zaalberg and Andrijana Mladina (Le Meridien Lav), Zoran Pejović (Paradox Hospitality), Marija Mustapić (Split hostels), Jelena Tabak (Split Association of Caterers), representatives of travel agencies, Ante Lacam (Intours MICE) and Ivana Durdov (Secret Dalmatia), and Jasmina Kruščić, caterer and host.

Total Croatia News will be publishing the in-depth minutes of the meeting soon and will be following the story in the coming weeks and months. 

For more on travel in Split, follow TCN's dedicated page

Sunday, 28 November 2021

Why Does Split Have So Few Winter Flights? Gojko Mavrinac, Croatian Aviation Interview

November 28, 2021 - Ahead of the Split winter tourism round table on December 13, TCN catches up with Gojko Mavrinac of Croatian Aviation to get his perspective on what needs to happen to get winter flights to Split. 

Developing winter tourism in Split is going to be a complex - but achievable - process, and I am really looking forward to the TCN Split Winter Tourism Round Table at CHOPS Grill on December 13, with almost all of the key stakeholders (including Mayor Puljak) already confirmed. You can read more about the story so far here. TCN will b organising a drinks event in early December for those of you who would like to air your views and give suggestions for the round table. Details coming soon. 

The key element in developing winter tourism is the availability of flights,of course. I am very grateful to Gojko Mavrinac of the Croatian Aviation portal for giving us some of his time to give us plenty to chew on in this email interview on questions surrounding flights and winter tourism to Split.   

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1. The subject of winter tourism and lack of flights to the coast is being discussed again. You have as intimate a knowledge of the airline industry as anyone. I am sure the topic is very complicated, but can you explain why there are almost no flights in winter to Split and Dubrovnik, when places such as Thessaloniki, Bari, Venice, and Alicante are so well served? And even ex-Yu destinations such as Tuzla, Banja Luka, and Nis connect to far more countries and routes.

Thank you Paul for the opportunity to talk about this extremely important topic of winter tourism in Croatia! First of all, I must say that many airlines have tried to connect Croatian coastal airports with destinations in Europe during the winter season before the outbreak of COVID-19, but, so far no luck. Demand was poor which resulted in route termination during the winter months. For example, Eurowings tried route from Dusseldorf to Pula during winter, a year later from Dusseldorf to Rijeka, LOT Polish Airlines tried with Warsaw - Dubrovnik route, Iberia with Madrid - Dubrovnik, but so far demand was not sufficient and routes are not operating during the winter season. There are many reasons why let me try to explain:

First of all, demand for Croatia during the winter is, of course, significantly lower than during the summer, I'm not sure if we have created enough programs to do in Dubrovnik or some other cities on the coast in January. Croatia is well-known as a summer destination, and I’m not sure that we are even trying to change that picture about our country and promote year-round tourism. A few weeks ago one charter airline asked me to help them to find a hotel in Dubrovnik. I was really surprised by how many hotels are closed! I mean, if there is no option for accommodation, when nothing is happening in the city, how we can expect that people will fly and stay in Croatia in January?

Second, airlines are sending aircraft somewhere where there is demand. As you mentioned, destinations such as Bari, Athens, Thessaloniki, still offer much more to the visitors even during the winter months which is not the case in Croatia. I believe that is the reason why airlines fly there, if there is no demand, there would be no flights for sure. 

Thirdly, incentives and subsidiaries. Airports can make incentive programs (as Zagreb did and Ryanair came and opened a base) and offer discounts for landing and handling charges. Do Croatian airports do that? Yes, they do, but that is not enough! Discounts should be higher and more flexible and some airlines will definitely at least try to serve destinations for one year, to check demand.  The Croatian Tourist Board offers subsidiaries that airlines use to fly to Croatia. In my opinion, it is ridiculous that we pay some low-cost airlines to fly to Croatia during the summer season since they will fly to Croatia even without subsidiaries due to heavy demand. But, on the other hand, we are not requesting from them to fly to Croatia during the winter! That's crazy! I mean, if easyJet flies more than 40 times per week from London to Croatia during the summer, there should be at least 2 flights per week during the winter! The Croatian National Tourist Board should add that in the tender, and I'm quite sure that airlines will fly with minimum frequency to Croatia during the winter to earn crazy money during the summer months.

Don’t look at Banja Luka, Nis, and Tuzla projects, that’s directly financed by local authorities and will work until there is money. Once when there are no direct subsidiaries, airlines will stop flying and switch to another airport. Some of those routes to these cities are probably even profitable without subsidiaries, but only because of diaspora, not because of tourists. 

2. If there was a concerted effort to improve the winter tourism scene, who would be the key stakeholders in that initiative, and which destination would you start with?

Airports, local tourist offices, hotels, restaurants, airlines, national tourist boards, ministry of tourism, and sports, I mean, all those mentioned stakeholders must sit and work on unique strategy and implement it. Right now there is no clear and unique vision and that’s problem number one. 

3. Dalmatia had a vibrant winter tourism scene with lots of flights back in the 1980s (see this UK tour rep interview). Things have changed, but if we had winter tourism back then, do we have the potential to have it again? 

To be honest, I was born in 1992. so I have not done any research about winter tourism on the coast in the 80s, and I’m not an expert in tourism. But what I do know is that airlines are here to monitor the market and to react on demand. If there is no demand, there are no flights, at least not without subsidiaries. In my opinion, the aforementioned stakeholders should create a winter program on the coast, invest money in marketing and pay airlines to fly to Croatia during the winter season. You know, for me it's not important if the airport is not profitable, the main reason why airports exist is to enable passengers to travel to/from some destination. If the passenger arrives here, in our city, and leaves 100 euros per day at a local grocery store, market, museum, hotel, restaurant, etc., we did something good for the local community. That is way more important than her/his airline ticket which was cheap because we pay that airline to fly to Croatia. In my opinion, if we do something good regarding the winter program and we decide to give subsidiaries to airlines, I believe we can move from the zero point where we are standing right now.  

4. Does Dalmatia have a credible winter tourism offer? If yes, what is it, and what are the quick wins to improve the current offer?

In my opinion, as I said, I’m not an expert on this topic, I don’t see too many reasons why someone should come and visit our coast during the winter season. The program is poor, hotels are closed, restaurants are as well. Go to Rovinj now, two restaurants are open, as well as two hotels. During the summer you can eat on every corner and you will not be able to find a bed week in advance. People from tourism would say that’s because tourists don’t have direct flights to Croatia, while airlines will say that’s because there is no demand to fly to Croatia during the winter, since there is no open restaurants, hotels, so we are just going round in circles. 

5. Split is a much bigger city than most in former Yugoslavia and yet the Tuzlas and Banja Lukas are attracting the flights. Is it a question of price, concessions, or something else?

As I mentioned before, Tuzla and Banja Luka are paying huge amounts of money (millions) to airlines to fly there and that is something which will at some point end. Split does not do that and I'm glad they don’t. Split Airport is well connected with Frankfurt (daily), Munich (daily), Rome (daily) with Croatia Airlines, which tries to connect Split with the biggest European hubs to enable passengers to travel to Split during the winter season. Frankfurt and Munich are great for transfers since you can reach almost any city in the world via those two airports. In my opinion, for Split, it would be great to have a connection with London, at least two times per week, as well as with some Scandinavian destinations, for example, Copenhagen. They should also stimulate KLM to fly the whole winter to Split, not just during Christmas. I am hoping this will change soon. There are also routes to other cities in Germany by Eurowings. Split is the best-connected city on our coast during the winter (and summer) and I believe that incentive program would attract more airlines during the winter. I am not sure why they don’t offer additional discounts to airlines in the winter months, I tried to get an answer from airport management, but so far no luck. 

6. While we have you, some other aviation questions if I may. Seaplanes are back in the news, with ACI Air planning to operate from ACI Marinas from May. What are your thoughts on the chances of this launching?

In my opinion, that can work. The question is how the business model is set up. So far I did not have the opportunity to see and read more in detail. But I hope they will materialize this project and start with operations from the next summer season, which, I have to say, sounds a bit optimistic but fingers crossed! I'm quite sure that during the summer months there is a huge demand for this kind of service. The last project (European Coastal Airlines) which failed had completely the wrong setup, but demand was there. II hope the guys in this project will do it now in the proper way. 

7. Ryanair has shaken up the market in Zagreb. Do you see them expanding on the coast into Dalmatia beyond Zadar?

In my opinion, no. We can expect more in Zadar. They already announced 10 new routes for the S22 season, and I can tell you that they will announce almost 10 more by the spring. That is a crazy expansion that will bring Zadar back, numbers will go up, even above 2019. Ryanair will go to Split and Dubrovnik only if they have better terms which both these airports refused to offer before, I believe nothing has changed so far. Split has huge volume and enough traffic, and there is no need for an additional low-yield low-cost airline, while Dubrovnik is also well- connected with Europe (and the USA). Ryanair did open some routes to those two cities, but under the same terms and conditions as other airlines. I would say that new routes are always possible, but not a base like in Zadar or now in Zagreb. I would say that new routes are possible for Pula as well, but the local tourist board there is more focused on easyJet. Ryanair is coming back to Rijeka next summer season with two routes, from Charleroi and Stansted, as far as I know, they should announce one more until the end of the year if negotiations go well. 

8. Will Croatia Airlines survive?

I'm quite sure it will. Next summer, we can expect some positive moves from their side as well, but negotiations are still ongoing. CTN/OU will soon go through huge changes, the new post-covid strategy should be approved by the Government soon, and the airline will change its entire fleet, work on the routes, etc. I mean, that’s the process of a few years and I hope we will have a national carrier after that process in much better shape. CTN/OU should and can be a game-changer for projects like winter tourism in this country, Croatia Airlines has bases in Dubrovnik, Split, technical support at Zadar and Pula, and can easily operate regular flights to/from our airports.

About Gojko Mavrinac: 

Goran is a 29-year-old aviation geek who has been in love with this industry since childhood so I chose appropriate study and got a mag. ing. traffic title. After University, just a week later started working. For a few years, I worked for Korean Air Lines as Station Manager at Zagreb Airport, working directly with passengers and airport staff at Zagreb Airport on our route between Zagreb and Seoul Incheon which operated three times per week with wide-body aircraft. That was, btw, the longest non-stop route to/from Zagreb, with a flight time sometimes (depending on weather) of more than 11 hours! Due to the COVID-19 route being suspended and me losing my job, I founded the Croatian Aviation web portal which brings daily news from the aviation industry in Croatia. I was lucky so for over a year I now work for one private airline in Croatia, that’s possible because Croatian Aviation portal is not run only by me anymore, we are a nice team of people in love with aviation, but also with proper education and work experience which is, I believe, even more, important and give us additional credibility. You can follow Gojko Mavrinac on LinkedIn

Are you a Split business with a winter tourism programme? TCN is offering a free promotional video, as well as an interview on your thoughts on how to develop Split winter tourism. Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Subject Split Winter Tourism if you would like to be featured. Interviews in th series so far:

Split Winter Tourism: The Daltonist Presents Chef Takeovers, Live Music, Art Exhibits

Split Winter Tourism at Chops Grill: Chopsylicious Menu, Weekend Music, Christmas Flair

Split Winter Tourism: New Menu at B7, Nomad Table at Zinfandel, Charlie's Advent at Zvončac

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Split Winter Tourism: New Menu at B7, Nomad Table at Zinfandel, Charlie's Advent at Zvončac

November 24, 2021 - Is Split winter tourism that hard to achieve? Croatia's second-largest city and the star of summer loses its buzz as soon as the seasons change. But it doesn't have to be that way. Our new TCN series looks at the Split businesses working hard in winter to give locals, and visitors, the environment they deserve. Continuing this week with Split winter tourism at Brasserie on 7, Zinfandel Food & Wine Bar, and Charlie's Bar. 

If there is one power couple that has engraved their name in the Split hospitality industry, it is Maria Mustapić and Korana Bučić, two Aussie-Croats who moved to Split back in 2004, opening one of the first proper hostels in the city, a backpacker's bar, and two of the city's finest culinary establishments. 

TCN has long been fans of Mare and Ko and their consistent effort to create an inclusive environment in the center for foodies, wine-os, and travelers looking to let loose on holiday - even in the winter. 

We caught up with Maria to find out what motivates them to keep Split alive in the offseason, what needs to change, and what we can expect from them this year. 

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Croatia and Split had booming year-round tourism in the 1980s until the outbreak of the Homeland War, but now the Dalmatian coast sleeps through the winter. Why do you think that is?

As people have mentioned before, the summer season has become so intense and popular that there has been a shift. People see Croatia as predominantly the Dalmatian coast, which is the land of the sea. The most that we have to offer is the crystal-blue Adriatic, sun, and beautiful islands. 

When Croatia was part of Yugoslavia, you had the other regions included as well. Thus people saw Croatia differently. The Greek islands, the Italian coast, or French Riviera, were the main places for holiday goers in summer, whereas Croatia has always been pleasant and pristine, but it wasn't on the map. Almost like it was kept a secret. 

Because people work so much in the summer,  they like to take the winter off. Many more places used to be open year-round, which is a huge factor. But again, it is a catch-22 - if no people are coming, then why would you stay open? It is hard to balance. 

The market depicts that we work in the summer and rest in the winter. During Yugoslavia, there was more industry and manufacturing, and the main income wasn't tourism. More people were living in the city, which made the city fuller. It’s hard to feel the city when it's empty, and there are no inhabitants in the palace anymore. The same goes for Dubrovnik. But it is a shame that it has become so bare and empty here in winter. 

If flights were not the problem, does Split have a winter tourism offer, and if yes, what is it?

I think we have to work on that. I think Split can be accepted as a city-break destination where travelers get away for 3 days. They don’t expect much, except for some life around town. They arrive, rent an apartment, but once they step out of their place every night, they want to see it happening. I think to start, that is all that can be expected. If you’re here for only 3 days, I suppose you won’t book in a cooking class or something similar; you won’t look much into extracurricular activities.

I think Split ultimately could start with congress tourism over winter. Congress tourists have a plan while they are here and in their off time, they can explore the city, dine at some restaurants, see a few sights, be amongst nature, and walk the beach promenade. But it is still relatively simple. Depending on where they are coming from, the weather could be refreshing for them, too.

I believe the town needs to be happening, and people will feel that especially if we have nice weather and establishments stay open - including a few more shops. 

Are you aware of any initiatives to improve the winter tourism situation? 

The biggest initiative I can see is the digital nomads movement. Split is becoming more and more enticing for digital nomads. Since there is a market for them, initiatives are taken to entertain them, which are becoming successful and a lot of fun. We are also beginning to create a really lovely culture around digital nomads. 

Digital nomads get to see the city when it is not in the peak season or with tourism. They can see how locals live, like shopping at the pazar or fish market every day. 

 

Advent, of course, is also a great initiative that has to stay afloat. 

Give us a few quick wins that could make Split a bit more attractive in the winter months?

We need to get the locals to come into town. For example, let's offer free parking down at the port to motivate people to go into town. We need to create a plan for the locals in winter and include the community, whether it's kids dancing on the Riva stage or something similar, the parents will come and perhaps the extended family. We will then create an atmosphere in town. I would love to see what the money is used for in summer because it isn’t noticed; Split is busy anyway in summer. 

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However, we can use that money when it is not busy to create something. Another example is that certain events can be pushed to November. To start with, if we could build on November and December with flights and see if there is a difference made, we can include January and February. But if we can get enough to take us through the end of the year, that is huge. 

Then we can get the flights starting from March, and then in 5 or so years, we can incorporate January and February if the other months are a success. The initiative needs to be from the council and the tourist board, then the private sector can follow. But we can't do it on our own. 

Let's see the plan and agenda created for the summer and see how much of it can be crossed out or pushed to the winter. 

Are you planning an event(s) of your own soon?

We have our winter menu at Brasserie on 7. Our chef, Alex, has incorporated some of his French specialties like the cassoulet, which is done with a duck confit, pancetta, sausage, and beans.

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We also have a pappardelle with lamb ragu, whipped pistachio, and orange confit. Because B7 is located on the Riva and breakfast and brunch is very popular, we also have the 60 kuna brunch special, where you can choose between the eggs Benedict, French toast, and porridge, and it runs until mid-day. The locals appreciate it as well. 

We are taking part in the Advent at Zvončac this year. Charlie’s Bar will be the main caterer for that within our company. Alex is creating the menu, and the offer is going to be loaded hot dogs. We have an Asian style one with sesame, soy, and cucumber, a Texan one with bbq sauce and beans, a New York one with cream cheese, scallions, and cheddar, a Spanish one with roasted peppers, and a classic with fried onions. 

Every second Friday, Zinfandel hosts Nomad Table with a set menu. It is a super fun event organized for digital nomads by Tanja Polegubić and Saltwater Nomads. There are games for everyone to interact and get to know each other better. 

When winter tourism is mentioned, many locals say that they do not want it, as they are tired after the busy season. What is your perspective as a successful business owner?

I think it is a shame that is the case. If you have a more stable income over the winter, then you can hold more staff. You have a core team. We already have that to a certain extent, but we would like to keep more people year-round. The turnover from the summer enables us to do that but it also cuts into your summer profits. It would be nice if it didn’t go from one extreme to the next. That way, people can rotate their holidays, and it will feel more like a year-round city. Everything will level out. But there is no one to stay open for; that’s the problem. 

While the staff does get very tired in the peak months, they can cut back on some hours towards the end of the season. On the flip side, they also get bored when they come to work, and there is nothing to do, which is demotivating. When you have your shift, and there are tables to be served, it is easier for everyone. The day goes by quicker; you feel more like you have accomplished something. 

What are the critical steps in your opinion to getting more flights in winter? 

I’m assuming it all has to do with finance. Airlines should be filling the seats and the demand, and subsidies should be available so that the airline doesn’t lose money. If Croatia can maybe invest in that on a national level, then perhaps we have something. The Ryanair Zagreb base will also take time to kick off. While they are connected to many destinations this winter and some 42 next summer, the bookings won’t happen overnight. 

Marketing is also one of the key successes. Split needs to be branded for Europe as a city-break destination, especially for travelers from the UK or Scandinavia who want to see a blue sky in winter. 

Split needs a program and agenda which needs to be marketed so that people have a clear idea of what they can do here. 

If you are a business in Split with a winter program, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with the subject Split Winter Tourism. 

Monday, 15 November 2021

Split Winter Tourism at Chops Grill: Chopsylicious Menu, Weekend Music, Christmas Flair

November 15, 2021 - Is Split winter tourism that hard to achieve? Croatia's second-largest city and the star of summer loses its buzz as soon as the seasons change. But it doesn't have to be that way. Our new TCN series looks at the Split businesses working hard in winter to give locals, and visitors, the environment they deserve. Continuing this week with Split winter tourism at Chops Grill. 

I was lucky to be introduced to Jasmina, the owner of Chops Grill, in my early days with TCN. That is something I am grateful for to this day. Not only is Chops one of Split's best restaurants, maintaining quality and culinary consistency year-round, but Jasmina and I have built a wonderful relationship over the years - and she continues to inspire me season after season. 

Chops Grill is not your typical Split restaurant, but a superb steakhouse that rewards guests with the best cuts of meat, American influences, and, of course, a Dalmatian touch. Jasmina and Chops also know no season and are applauded for working tirelessly year-round, adapting their offer depending on the time of year, from unique 3-course menus to on-the-go breakfast sandwiches. 

But what motivates Jasmina, Chops, and sister cafe bar Paradiso to bring the best to guests even in the winter? 

Croatia and Split had booming year-round tourism in the 1980s until the outbreak of the Homeland War, but now the Dalmatian coast sleeps through the winter. Why do you think that is?

First of all, I think we were a more affordable destination at that time. I know this because when I worked for Sunčani Hvar back in 2006, we had half-board offers that were very cheap per person through agencies. 

There also aren't as many big tour operators today. Everything is done online. Tourists do their own research and don't need agencies or operators as much.

And because nothing is state-owned, the prices are much higher, even in the winter. 

Back in the 1980s, many hotels offered health tourism, spas, and indoor pools, allowing older travelers to visit here even when the weather wasn't as nice. Today, we mainly have city hotels that do not have spas or facilities to accommodate winter tourism. 

If flights were not the problem, does Split have a winter tourism offer, and if yes, what is it?

I feel bad for tourists that visit Split in the winter, especially now. The only real options are for visitors to have dinner then drinks in a half-empty bar. Guests ask us what they should do after dinner, and we honestly don't know what to tell them.

The museums here are great and interesting for Croatian schoolkids needing to learn about the history of Croatia, but for international tourists, and even if I was a tourist here, there are no interactive museums where you could spend the day. When it comes to culture, we are also lacking in offering shows. HNK is amazing, but the program is mainly in Croatian, which doesn't tempt tourists - especially when musicals or drama plays are in focus. 

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If I am on a city-break getaway with my husband, I would also want to go shopping, which is a huge problem here. My guests often ask where they can buy certain designer items. The people that come here are minimum middle to upper-class guests. They pay big money for their hotel room - around 300-400 euros. Most people on city-break trips travel without their kids - usually with their significant other or friends. This then targets travelers who want to go to a nice show, dinner, enjoy good cocktails, and maybe explore a museum. But they will also want to go shopping, and there isn't a designer shopping offer in Split. This is a problem we need to start addressing now. The wealthy Russian tourist cannot buy their Chanel in Split but can elsewhere. They could go to Montenegro instead. 

Istria already has a winter tourism offer, but Inland Dalmatia is not yet as developed. If you're coming to Split for 3-4 days, wouldn't you want to spend one day in nature with a local family that will serve you their homemade wines and products? Especially somewhere that is only a taxi ride away from Split? There are few places you can send tourists for that experience, and we see a lot of interest around this idea from our guests at Chops. We already have beautiful villas with pools in Imotski, but a nice family farm or winery where you can spend the day? Our current offer mainly targets Croatian families for a Sunday lunch. It's not a Michelin-star experience, but it's an authentic and local experience, and tourists would love it, too.

Are you aware of any initiatives to improve the winter tourism situation?

Only Paul and Total Croatia News, haha. I've been part of the tourism industry for a long time, and I don't know of anything happening at the moment. Oh, but I do know that the Mall of Split bus is running from the ferry port! 

Give us a few quick wins that could make Split a bit more attractive in the winter months?

Shopping, winery day trips from Split, contemporary/interactive art and museums, and shows. This is what I believe is most important for Split to offer in the winter. There also are not many destinations that offer both the beach and city-break getaways. Maybe Nice and Cannes if we are talking about cities comparable to Split. But what do they have? Shopping, art, and beautiful restaurants - but why? Because they have yachts. They have a similar climate, but it is not swimmable in the winter there either. Yacht owners, however, keep their yachts there in the winter. They check up on them and maintain them in the offseason. They know that bars and restaurants are open and that they can shop. Montenegro is starting to do the same thing. We have a lot of regular guests at Chops that live abroad but keep their yachts here in the winter, but what can we offer them? We also have an advantage compared to similar cities because these guests can easily fly into Split Airport, check on their yacht, and spend 2-3 days in Split. We need this tourism. 

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Are you planning an event(s) of your own soon?

On Saturday night we had a lot of reservations, due mainly to our Chopsylicious menu, which we have been doing for the last 7 years! Once we announced it this year, the interest was crazy. Everybody wants to try the menu, which is an excellent value for money. Diners can taste some of our products during the winter when they have more time. We have adjusted the menu to the season. For example, we are not selling the wagyu for 200 kuna. Instead, we changed the menu and are using it to test new dishes for next year. We are tracking what guests like and improving what is needed. When next season comes, we can introduce it to our menu. It's a win-win situation. And guests who like the Chopsylicious menu revisit us in the summer or recommend us to friends and family!  

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Besides Chopsylicious, we host two music professors from the Josip Hatze school who play inside the restaurant every weekend. Paradiso will be bringing in some light live music from next weekend, and we will begin decorating for Christmas as part of our winter wonderland. We have done it already for two years, and it's beautiful. This year we are going the extra mile to create a Christmas village. We will once again offer our breakfast sandwiches at Chops and Paradiso, so people will always have a place to eat and drink. 

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Will you close at all this year?

We always close from January 6 to March 1. It gives us a small break, but we also need to use the time to prepare for the season with renovations. We cannot preserve everything and need to repaint, repair the chairs, and the like. We also use this time to create the menu. 

Back in 2020, we had plans to keep Chops open year-round. But, of course, the pandemic happened instead. That remains our ultimate goal, and I don't think we would have much trouble doing business even in January and February.

When winter tourism is mentioned, many locals say that they do not want it, as they are tired after the busy season. What is your perspective as a successful business owner?

We want it! We do need a break; everyone needs a break. I know I do because I have never worked harder on the operational side of things than this summer. But I only need about 15 days. I get nervous after that, haha. I need to do something actively; I cannot just twiddle my thumbs at home and not work because we had a 'successful season'. The Chopsylicious menu and our winter offer keep us busy, and I am happy we have that.

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I would be terrified to close my doors for the entire winter. You cannot keep quality by doing that. Businesses that close in the winter also make the hospitality industry less desirable. It makes us a servant to our tourists. If you can work for an entire year, especially at a restaurant with a lot of business in the summer, and have good business throughout the winter with a year-round salary, then being a waiter is a beautiful job where you can support your family. Who wants to be a waiter only for 4 months? Then it's just a student job. 

We care about our suppliers a lot and try to find a lower-cost product in the winter than the premium products we offer in the summer. With our chefs and their innovation, we create affordable dishes that guests can enjoy in the offseason. For example, the tuna salad on the Chopsylicious menu uses lower-cost ingredients but looks beautiful. The most expensive part of that dish is that someone had to come up with it in their head. If I am looking at that as the owner, the cost of that dish is lower, but someone needs to think about how to create that using the products available. That is why I invest in my staff throughout the year, and that is how you can adapt your offer in the winter to make sense for your restaurant and your guests. 

What are the key steps in your opinion to getting more flights in winter? (Optional)

The Marriott (which will open eventually), Le Meridien Lav, Radisson Blu, and Atrium offer over 1,000 hotel rooms combined. All of those hotels have a spa, which I've already mentioned is crucial for city-break destinations. That's about 2,000 potential guests per day, offered beautiful hotels, great service and food, and indoor pools. If they all got together and spoke to a low-cost carrier about offering and filling these 1,000 rooms, that's a solution. It could almost be some non-formal tour operator. Say, for example, you buy the flight from a low-cost carrier and are offered reasonable rates at these hotels. This is especially important on the weekends when there are no business people from Zagreb in Split. But I truly believe these hotels with indoor pools need to come together; that is the only way it will work. Think - 2,000 people per day is 14,000 potential tourists per week. Those guests will be able to visit the hotel spa and swim, have a nice dinner in town, go to a cocktail bar, and even go to Joker for shopping!

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I would also try to create a promo video for tourists showing them exactly how their 4 days in Split would look, instead of just sharing Croatia's most beautiful destinations from above, usually without people. You could create a beautiful 'day-in-the-life' type of promo video showing exactly what you can expect on your Split trip. We need to show tourists what they can do here and not just share aerial footage. 

Message to other businesses in Split?

If you stay open in winter, the summer will be easier since you can keep your staff. You'll offer better service, too. If you have both of those things, you'll earn even more money. And if we are all open during the winter, buying from our suppliers won't be as complicated!

Some businesses see each other as competition. If you have a city with many good restaurants, people visit for gastronomy, meaning they'll choose a new restaurant every day. Having more quality restaurants means more business for everyone. This would also help us to be recognized as an excellent gastronomic destination. We all need to support each other. Why can't other restaurants recreate the Chopsylicious idea? That is a wonderful idea, and it gives us more places to visit for dinner!

We also need to think about the minds of tourists and understand that they may not want to eat Dalmatian food every day of their trip. While local food should be enjoyed, it is impossible to expect that someone will eat grilled fish and blitva all the time. I know that when I am visiting Mexico, I cannot eat Mexican food every day. Sometimes you need a burger or pizza; comfort food that hits the spot and gives you a taste of home. And that is fine, too.

We offer eggs benedict on our breakfast menu and make the English muffins in-house because you cannot find them in Croatia. While we have to put in more work, knowing that our guests have that piece of familiarity is worth it.  We also can't expect that every tourist likes eating fish or can peel scampi! A lot of these experiences may be new to them. That's why we should think about what tourists have available at home and try to recreate it in our way with traditional influences. 

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This is the direction we need to be going in. We should never lose our identity, but let's celebrate international cuisine with a Dalmatian twist. 

You can explore Chops HERE.

If you are a business in Split with a winter program, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with the subject Split Winter Tourism. 

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Split Winter Tourism: The Daltonist Presents Chef Takeovers, Live Music, Art Exhibits

November 10, 2021 - Is Split winter tourism that hard to achieve? Croatia's second-largest city and the star of summer loses its buzz as soon as the seasons change. But it doesn't have to be that way. Our new TCN series looks at the Split businesses working hard in winter to give locals, and visitors, the environment they deserve.  First up, meet The Daltonist.

I'll never forget being congratulated after making it through my first Split winter as if I was nuts to attempt such a feat.

"How did you survive?" 

"How could you enjoy it after living in California and London?"

"Isn't winter in Split too boring for you?"

But the reality of my first winter in Split is wildly different. It's the reason I decided to stay in Croatia at all. Sure, it pales in comparison to the bustling summer months, but thanks to its mild climate and sunshine, I'm still wearing sunglasses here year-round. And if you can get through that one bad month of brutal bura, I promise the weather will reward you the rest of the year. 

Split winters, however, are not nearly used to their full potential. Instead, they are reserved for the locals to hibernate after a busy summer, with 50% of restaurants, bars, and businesses saying goodnight after a season well done. The once-lively old town becomes a ghost town, with the few flickering lights of restaurants and cafes reminding us they're still there should we wish to visit them. And those same businesses endeavor year after year, hopeful that this offseason will be the one to bring life back to Split. TCN is shining the spotlight on them in our latest series. 

First up, we meet owner Luke Stewart and marketing & brand director Flor Vignaroli of The Daltonist, a craft cocktail bar and gastropub around the corner from Pazar and just outside the palace walls. 

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Croatia and Split had successful year-round tourism in the 1980s until the outbreak of the Homeland War, but now the Dalmatian coast sleeps through the winter. Why do you think that is?

Luke Stewart: I think a lot of it is cultural. I think now, compared to the 80s, there is much harder work in the summer. The summers are crazy and tiring. So you combine this culture of people not wanting to work so much with people having to work twice as hard in the summer, and I get it. Dalmatians love the sun. When the weather isn't good, it sucks the life out of all Dalmatian people, and I think that is also a big part. 

There is also no awareness. No one is doing anything to bring people. Just like Paul (Bradbury) said, if there are no flights, how will people come?

If flights were not the problem, does Split have a winter tourism offer, and if yes, what is it?

Luke Stewart: It's kind of like the chicken and the egg. If people were coming, people would do something, and at the same, if people were doing something, they would be more likely to come. Zagreb Advent started for locals, and it was very much a local event. Based on that example, you have to do something for people to start coming. But how do you do it?

Locals don't go out as much or spend as much money. So if you are trying to provide an offer that international people will come for, that needs to work locally in the beginning.  If locals don't want it, it's a catch 22. 

Being from Leeds, do you think tourists from the UK would visit Split in the winter? 

Luke Stewart: I think they could, but right now? No way. It is very much seen as a summer place because it is exactly that. If you google Croatia, you see beaches, beach clubs, the sun, boats, and the like. So why would people want to come here in the winter? Prague and Brussels are places people want to go to in the winter because they are cozy and festive. Zagreb did a great job at that, too. But the coast? No way.

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Are you aware of any initiatives to improve winter tourism in Split?

Luke Stewart: I've been following what Total Croatia News has done around the subject, but in terms of tourism, not so much. In terms of winter hospitality, many of us are trying hard, and we do every year. Many really good places stay open all year, and there are a lot of places that only open in the winter that are essentially unheard of to foreigners - and they are amazing.

What would help develop things? If the city remembered that local hospitality is just as important as tourism. Everyone that stays open all year has this idea that tourism comes second - and it will come. But if you focus just on summer tourism, you lose the local vibe, which is something people would actually come for in the winter.

Give us a few quick wins that could make Split a bit more attractive in the winter months?

Flor Vignaroli: I am from a big city - Buenos Aires. The winter is the same as the summer - or even better. In the summer, everyone goes on holiday, and during the winter, you have an endless list of things to do. Of course, things have changed with the pandemic, but you have live music, art exhibitions, museums, and street events. The Riva is an excellent location to host events during the winter. It shouldn't just be a place where locals have coffee. The City needs to offer more to the people that live here. Whether they are paid or free events, it doesn't matter. In general, there is not much going on. Look at the Koteks building, for example. It just sits there. What an amazing location to host an event!

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Luke Stewart: Dalmatia forgets that we are our own country; we are not just a holiday resort. You can't compare Dalmatia with the rest of Croatia as it is totally different. And it is almost like the mentality has shifted - that we are one giant holiday resort, that is what we are good at, and this idea of being a living and breathing city goes down every year. If that were fixed, that would be the change. People go to Prague or New York in the winter because of the buzzing local life - even when it's -10 degrees. The winters should not be about what we can do for tourists but what can we do as a city? If the city is alive and exciting, the tourists will come. Do you want to go on holiday to a city that's closed? It doesn't have to be waiting for you to arrive like in summer. But imagine going to a bar in Split for your first time, and it's December, and it's packed full of local people. 

Flor Vignaroli: When you're traveling, you want to see the local scene. Is there even a local scene in Split at the moment? You work hard for 4 months during the season, really hard, then you have nothing to do in the city you live in when you can finally relax. We want to provide locals with something to do. Otherwise, it's boring. We don't only work for tourists. We always make sure our prices are fair for locals. We have a big selection of quality beers that range in price. We try to serve the local population. 

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Luke Stewart: We also don't bump our prices up in the summer. We sell a more premium product in the summer with a more premium experience. Our winter is cheaper not just because we are dropping prices and margins, but we are offering something simpler. We can serve eggs benedict in summer with shaved truffles for 100 kuna, but we aren't selling the same thing for 60 kuna in the winter. We have a different version that works out to be less for local people.

And what about the winter events at The Daltonist this year?

Flor Vignaroli: We are starting with live music, DJs on Fridays and Saturdays, and are working on doing different kinds of events, for example, a chef takeover with Mate Janković. We chose Mate to launch this new event series at The Daltonist. He will create a 5-course meal paired with Croatian Varionica beer. We are selling tickets in advance to make sure we can control the Covid measures. Our idea is to offer people something different. We want to provide events we would want to attend ourselves. Things are happening in other cities, but why can't we do that while supporting local artists at the same time? We want to showcase people from Split and foreigners. We want to host an art exhibition with Luka Duplančić at the end of November, and will continue with events in December. We also hosted a gin masterclass last month and did a bar takeover in Zagreb a few weeks ago, and we plan on doing the same in Split. 

Someone suggested we do an open mic night, so we are discussing that idea right now. We want to offer something different every day of the week. We have the space for it, so why not? 

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Luke Stewart: Our goal this winter is to focus on community-based events. And mainly to have fun. You work your ass off in the summer. Hospitality is a fun job, and we all work in this because we don't want that boring 9-5. We have friends all over the country doing the same thing. So now, in the winter, we get to create events that are fun for us while giving back to the local community.

For example, our neighbor has the best coffee in Split (Soul Coffee). He attracts the morning crowd while we draw the evening crowd. But in the winter, it is too cold for him to work. We have zero interest in selling coffee, but because we have a good relationship, and his coffee is great, we are selling it at The Daltonist this winter. That way, his local customers get the Soul Coffee experience year-round, and we get to sell great specialty coffee. It's a win-win for everyone.

Winter is just as enjoyable for us as the summer. We don't plan on closing at all, apart from New Year's Day, as we are all too hungover to work. This winter will undoubtedly bring more challenges, especially since we killed smoking. But we really believe in it and aren't trying to stay open to make crazy money.

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In the middle of the interview, an inspector visited The Daltonist telling them they had to take down the decorative plants hanging on the outside wall as someone had reported it. 

Luke Stewart: That would really help winter tourism. On a national, regional, and city level, the government is constantly trying to suffocate and choke the people who are trying to make things happen. People try to do nice things here, and then the inspector comes and tries to punish you for it. You're often driven to the point of wondering why you're even trying. It's really draining. 

In general, small businesses are enemies of the state. But small businesses drive community and culture. And that is what we bring people in the winter. If a business is allowed to thrive, it is good for the local and travel economies. 

Flor Vignaroli: Digital nomads, for example, want a nice co-working space and apartment, but when they close their laptop, they want to have fun. And where will they go if the city is dead? So that is a massive point of why we are doing what we are doing. For the local community and for the people wanting to live here. 

How has your clientele shifted moving from summer to winter?

Luke Stewart: We are still seeing a lot of foreigners, but we are also seeing people staying here long-term, from digital nomads to people escaping Covid at home. We noticed a lot more long-term visitors in the summer as well, whether it is for one month or three months. The digital nomad movement has been a huge part of that. So while there may be fewer tourists, it feels like a lot of foreigners are still here. 

The local crowd also comes back out in the winter. You don't see any locals in the summer because they're either working or staying away from Split. October is the month where we see the shift. We like it best when it's 50/50 - half locals, half foreigners. That's when we feel most like an international bar. And that's what winter tourism is about.
_MG_4041.jpegWhat are the critical steps to getting more flights in winter?

Luke Stewart: Umm... to try. Trying would be good. Don't sue people who are trying; that also helps. 

Flor Vignaroli: We are foreigners. We live here for a reason. We choose to live here because we actually like the country. But, of course, we want to see Croatia succeed. There is so much potential here. Why is so much not working? 

Luke Stewart: Croatia as a place is incredible. But I can't say the same for the Croatian state. We work in hospitality and don't even see ourselves as working in tourism. But I will say that I think that the Croatian coast needs to work on itself before it can expect people to come. Why would you want to go to Belgrade in the winter? It's alive with people, just like Zagreb. 

This winter tourism thing is backward. "If you come, we will do something." It should be that we are doing something because we want to, and then people will notice. You can see this in the mentality of some businesses. They think, "well, we are open, so why aren't you coming?" But it would help if you opened it because you believe in what you are doing, and then people will take notice. 

Flor Vignaroli: The City of Split needs to invest in culture. It's as simple as that. Invest in local artists, invest in making Split more attractive to its people. How hard is it to do a couple of cool events a month? There are so many cool artists and really talented people here, but you have to give them the space. 

A message to other businesses in Split?

Luke Stewart: The first thing that comes to mind is every business owner here, whether it's the summer or not, has trouble finding skilled employees. The reason is that skilled employees are not provided with year-round stable work, so they leave. If we had a year-round economy, we wouldn't have the brain drain and population decrease. Even if you only worked 3 months a year, it would be so much easier if the economy works year-round. The best workers leave to go elsewhere, and I think working year-round would revolutionize not just the winter but the summer as well. 

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A big part of staying open in the winter for The Daltonist is that we have developed an amazing team, and we are all here long-term. Businesses rely on their people. When you can provide people with stable, year-round work, everything develops much faster. So we thought not about how little we could get away with but instead how much. That revolutionized things for us. And looking at things metaphorically, if you invest more into Split, there will be more tourism. 

If you are a business in Split with a winter program, please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with the subject Split Winter Tourism. 

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